By Ahsan

There are, broadly speaking, two interpretations of the spike in violence in the last ten days. One is optimistic, and one is pessimistic.

The optimistic version, predictably forwarded by the government, is that this is a last desperate stand from the Taliban and their allies, in advance of the Army assault in Waziristan. The logic is that this wave of violence is basically an attempt to ward off the impending attack. In this view, the militants wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t think the Waziristan foray would cost them dearly, and perhaps even succeed in wiping out the movement, or at least debilitating it to the point where it no longer presents a viable threat to the state and its citizens.

Though I think that much of this thinking is, in fact, wishful thinking (and so not real thinking at all), there is something to be said for the fact that the timing of this escalation coincides perfectly with the military offensive. As such, we must conclude that it is not a coincidence. It follows then, by logic, that the militants are sending a warning to the military (and, I suppose, the civilian) leadership. And who would send a warning if they weren’t worried?

On the other hand, there is a pessimistic view of the latest attacks too. Namely, that the TTP is adding to its organizational capabilities by allying with militant groups based in southern Punjab, like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad. For the most part, these groups have stayed outside the militant-army battle of the last few years, basically by not attacking representatives of the state and therefore not attracting the ire of the government — though it bears noting that such organizations are primarily responsible for (a) the sectarian violence directed, primarily, against Shias, and (b) cross-border violence directed against India.

If this view is true, Pakistan, if possible, has an even bigger problem on its hands than once thought. For one thing, it stretches resources beyond the breaking point. Remember that the reason/excuse given by the government for not tackling non-Taliban militant groups (such as LeT, a move always guaranteed to royally piss the Indians off) is that they weren’t actually at war with the state, so why go after them if such a conflict would attract resources away from the “real” war? The government can no longer enjoy making that distinction, which is an exceedingly good thing in the medium and long term, but hugely damaging in the short term because it forces, in effect, a two-front war. And you can ask the Germans how those work out.

Also consider that fighting a war in the sparsely populated FATA region is one thing, going gung-ho to fight militancy in urban and rural Punjab is quite another. Finally, in targeting police academies and government buildings and army headquarters, the militants are sending an unmistakable message to the Pakistani people: if the people in charge of protecting you can’t even protect themselves, what hope do you have?

It is a sobering thought.